Am I the only one who experiences this? I'd love to hear from you - either way - so please leave a quick comment below.
Basically, when I have a conversation which lasts more than a few minutes, I have a relatively high success rate: I can understand them, they can understand me, and we can cover a decent range of topics. But when the conversation is just a quick one - one of us asking a question and the other required to answer - the success rate is definitely not as good.
- I might ask someone for directions - and they reply back to me with a series of rapid sentences which I just don't get. Sure, I hear words like "qiánmiàn" (forwards), "yòubian" (on your right) and "ránhòu" (thereafter) ... but it's too much too quickly, and I invariably have to ask them to repeat themselves more slowly.
- Interestingly, when I first engage them in a short-ish conversation first, and so give them the opportunity to gauge my vocab and listening-skills, then I have a much greater success rate in understanding the directions which I then ask for - because they will have calibrated to my level.
- Similarly, when I enter a shop, and the assistant comes up to me and speaks a few sentences - I often have no idea what they're saying. Again, too much, too fast. It might be something as simply as "Thanks for popping in. We've got some great special offers, but I'll leave you to look around yourself for a while, and then when you're ready please come speak to me again." Or maybe they're just asking me not to touch anything because I might break it.
- Also, when getting into a taxi (especially in Beijing) and telling the driver where I want to go, I guess his assumption is that I can speak Chinese well - because they then launch into a one minute speech, which usually goes right over my head. (When I tell them that I didn't understand, usually the younger drivers will try again more slowly, probably using simpler language, while the older drivers either tend to say it again just as fast, or they simply shrug and remain silent.)
Is there a moral to this story? Probably - I can think of a few. But why don't you take a moment, think about what this means to you in relation to your own Mandarin studies, and then leave a comment for other readers.